A Trump administration official blocked a detained immigrant teenager from leaving a shelter to receive an abortion even though she had been raped, arguing it would be curing “violence with further violence,” according to documents unsealed as part of a lawsuit on Thursday.
Office of Refugee Resettlement Director Scott Lloyd, who has taken the unprecedented step of requiring a sign-off for any abortion of an immigrant teen in custody, wrote in an internal Dec. 17 memo that the 17-year-old girl had been raped in her home country, that the rape had resulted in pregnancy, and that she had threatened to harm herself if she was unable to have an abortion. He also wrote that she was 22 weeks pregnant at the time.
″[W]e are being asked to participate in killing a human being in our care,” he wrote. “I cannot direct the program to proceed in this manner. We cannot be a place of refuge while we are at the same time a place of violence. We have to choose, and we ought to choose protect life rather than to destroy it.”
The document was the first to reveal that Lloyd has barred victims of rape from obtaining abortions, as he has done with other teens in government custody, and one of the clearest descriptions yet of how his ideology is shaping the agency’s treatment of pregnant girls. The government previously refused to tell HuffPost whether it was barring rape victims from obtaining abortions.
The teen was ultimately able to have the abortion she sought after a district court blocked the Trump administration’s decision to deny her the procedure.
Lloyd wrote in the memo that he was ”mindful that abortion is offered by some as a solution to a rape,” but did not see it that way and believed it was “perhaps likely” that allowing the teenager to receive an abortion would create “additional trauma on top of the trauma she experiences as a result of her sexual assault.”
″[S]ome would suggest that, by declining to assist in the abortion we are in some way engaging in a form of violence against the mother, as in the notion that ORR is forcing her to carry her pregnancy to term,” he wrote. “I disagree. Implicit here are the dubious notions that it is possible to cure violence with further violence, and that the destruction of an unborn child’s life can in some instances be acceptable as a means to an end.”
“To decline to assist in an abortion here is to decline to participate in violence against an innocent life,” he continued.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which brought the lawsuit on behalf of the teen and on behalf of others in similar situations, said the government agency abused its power and acted inappropriately by denying abortion access to an immigrant in a country where the procedure is legal. The additional revelations that the teen was raped, and that the administration’s decision was driven by Lloyd’s personal opposition to abortion, has outraged reproductive rights advocates.
“This story continues to get more unreal,” Brigitte Amiri, senior staff attorney with the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement. “This latest revelation exposes the Trump administration’s extreme anti-abortion ideology: it seeks to force women to continue pregnancies against their will.”
Under Lloyd, the Office of Refugee Resettlement has taken the extreme step of requiring the director’s approval for all abortions for immigrant girls in custody; in previous administrations, the ORR required such approval only for use of government funds in cases of rape, incest and threats to life of the mother.
The Department of Health and Human Services, which includes the ORR, declined to comment on the memo or its policy for whether it makes an exception in abortion decisions for girls who are victims of rape or incest or for health reasons.
Rape is a common occurrence for migrants on the way to the U.S., according to multiple reports. Amnesty International estimated in a 2010 report that as many as 60 percent of women and girls are raped on their journey, while an investigation by Fusion (now called Splinter) in 2014 put the percentage at closer to 80 percent.
But it’s not only victims of rape for whom the ACLU is fighting. Other girls have similarly been blocked from leaving shelters to obtain abortions. On multiple occasions, Lloyd or other officials have even personally urged teens to change their decisions about whether to terminate a pregnancy, according to the ACLU.
The Trump administration has argued it isn’t forcing girls to continue unwanted pregnancies, but rather is simply declining to facilitate them. A government attorney said in court that minors could just agree to leave the U.S. for their native countries ― some of which outlaw abortion ― or be released to a sponsor and then obtain the procedure.
Those aren’t reasonable options, the ACLU has argued. Being released to a sponsor isn’t in a minor’s control ― that decision is up to the government, and in some cases can take weeks or months. Agreeing to a voluntary removal, even to a country where the girl could receive an abortion, could mean declining to pursue a legitimate legal case to stay in the U.S., such as asylum or other relief.
Planned Parenthood is calling for Lloyd to step down.
“He is unfit to serve in government,” said Dana Singiser, vice president of public policy for Planned Parenthood. “Lloyd is imposing his personal beliefs on the young women in his agency’s care ― to control their bodies and violate their constitutional rights. His overreach and abuse of power puts these young women’s lives in danger.”